Melanie McDonagh

Dominic Cummings’s lockdown critics will never be happy

Dominic Cummings's lockdown critics will never be happy
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Happy now? Thought not. Dominic Cummings has delivered his statement and answered questions but still the critics aren’t appeased. Not at all. In fact, the tenor of the questions that were put to him suggested that quite a few of the journalists lucky enough to be socially distancing in the Downing Street rose garden, plus those listening at a distance, hadn’t been listening to a word he said.

Didn’t he realise that there were people out there who hadn’t seen their elderly parents or grandparents for months and how would they feel knowing that he’d been gadding up to Durham to see his? There were parents with dependent children who could have done exactly as he did, but they didn’t because they respected the rules…'do you owe them an apology?' How did he feel knowing that scientists believed his actions had made it more difficult to send out a clear message…? And what about that test drive to Barnard Castle? Impaired vision? And driving? With a child in the car? Get social services, someone. (That last one was on Twitter.)

I paraphrase, obviously, but that’s because I’ve been on a few radio chat shows – of which, by a mile, the most intelligent was the Radio Five Live show hosted by the brilliant Stephen Nolan – and this was precisely the gist of it; the questions put to Mr C in Downing Street reflect the indignant callers out there. Miriam from Glasgow has two children with special needs but she hadn’t been able to get the usual help for them, so how come Dominic Cummings felt he could twist the rules? How did it make her feel? Gutted. And Stephen whose father had died in a care home and he hadn’t been able to attend the funeral? How did he feel? Very angry.

What Dominic Cummings actually said and which, it would seem, hasn’t yet penetrated, is that he wasn’t breaking the rules because the rules about staying put allowed for exceptions, one of them being if you have a small dependent child and both parents might be ill. That simple message Stay Home, Save Lives was a slogan, not a law. As Mr C said 'the legal rules do not cover all circumstances'.

It seems to me a reasonable position. One that anyone might have taken, not just he. Yet he can quote the guidelines endlessly but it’s not going to appease anyone. In fact Dominic Cummings could probably jump from the Tarpeian rock right now and the pundits would still be sucking their teeth and saying he has questions to answer.

The actual question remains for all the angry people out there: what would you have done if you, like the Cummingses, had a four-year-old son and you were in their situation? As he said 'there was no-one I could reasonably ask to look after our child' as his wife – Mary Wakefield of this parish – felt very ill, and he thought he might come down with it – correctly, as it turned out. Driving to Durham where they could isolate with their son and have someone to care for him – his young nieces – if need be seemed like the best option.

But the curious thing is that no-one buys the idea that you can be as important as he and stuck in London without someone you could ask to look after your child for a fortnight. As one caller said darkly on BBC Radio Scotland, 'someone that rich and well connected…he must have people he can call on in London'. Well, I’ve got friends in London too but I’d hesitate to park my children on them for two weeks.

Actually, the saddest reason Dominic Cummings gave for his unwillingness to stay put in Islington was that he and his family are subjected to abuse in his own home and whenever they step outside the door. It makes you wonder how anyone has the stamina to stay in public life if they can’t go for a walk without being cat-called. It used to be a matter of pride in the past that in Britain people in high office didn’t set themselves apart – Mr Gladstone used to travel by omnibus – but that was pre-social media. There are a lot of angry people out there – and incidentally, anger is not the same as authenticity. Dominic Cummings will just have to ride that wave because there is, I’d say, no way to appease them.